In a scene from the brilliant BBC serial drama Our Friends in the North a decade or so back, a corrupt Labour councillor is exposed to the local media. He starts to whimper self-pityingly about what made him get involved with a local property developer, citing his "socialist" beliefs about slum-clearance (this was the early 70s), maintaining that all he ever really wanted was for his voters to have "palaces in the sky". The palaces, however, have become prisons as the reality of tower block existence becomes depressingly stark.
The scene flashed through my mind when I read in the Bootle Times last week of the Stella Nova project on the site of the old Stella Maris building (http://www.bootletimes.co.uk/news/bootle-news/2009/03/19/17m-stella-nova-tower-block-in-bootle-almost-built-97007-23176954/ ).
I'm not insinuating for a moment that corrupt practices are at play between Sefton Council & the developers. I am saying that the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.
Clearly, the developers, Dreaming Spires, are keen to stress the features of the development (http://www.stella-nova.co.uk/ & http://www.dreamingspires.com/ ), promising luxurious apartments from "only" £395 per month & "stylish" business units to let from £10 per square feet. Other goodies are thrown in, according to Dreaming Spires, including a free gymnasium for all residents & a landscaped roof garden. The development will be 14 storeys high, roughly two-thirds the height of the nearby Triad commercial building.
As a minor title in the Trinity Mirror behemoth, the Bootle Times is an underfunded paper, posted free through most Bootle letterboxes (including mine) & is therefore reduced to reproducing PR & press statements while packaging & presenting them as news stories. This is no exception:
"Nick Kollakis, the head of developer Dreaming Spires, said, 'It is a major catalyst -- a visible catalyst people cannot miss -- to change the perceptions of Bootle, which is critically important.'
"The 36-year-old, who lives with his wife in South Liverpool, added, 'If everyone in Bootle thinks the place they are working in is a dump, then that feeling is perpetuated.' "
The souped-up press release goes on to say that Mr Kollakis "hopes his tower will compete with those in Liverpool city centre for 'white collar' tenants."
There's a few points there for observant readers to sink their teeth into. Firstly, it is undeniable that the issue of affordable housing is crucial not just locally, but nationwide. However, the model to follow in this regard is that of terraced & semi-detached developments built on brownfield sites in heavily urban areas. Changing the perception of areas like Bootle do not hinge on erecting a tower block. If anything, the tower block model has contributed to the post-war perception of Bootle as run-down , blighted by social problems & economically deprived.
That Mr Kollakis lives in South Liverpool is also germane to this development. Bootle has never been a north end version of Mossley Hill, or even Aigburth, when the south end docks meant that it was a largely working class district. Unlike whole swathes of the city's south end, Bootle has always lived in the shadow of the docks, without which the town wouldn't have grown.
Moreover, it would be interesting if Mr Kollakis has been told by Bootle's residents that they view the entire town as "a dump". I very much doubt it myself. Bootle is a (sometimes too) close, well-knit working class area. It still has its problems, which none would dispute. However, to label it as "a dump" perhaps tells us more about Mr Kollakis than Bootle itself.
His hope that the development will "compete" with those high-rise developments in Liverpool city centre may well prompt some questions, not just about the economic viability of tower blocks for "white collar" tenants in a slump, but also about Mr Kollakis' ego.